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Why Northern Ireland's Art Sector Must Be Supported Now: Businesses Speak Out

15 Sep 2020

Why Northern Ireland's Art Sector Must Be Supported Now: A Business Viewpoint

The arts sector is more than simply music, paintings or plays. To many people it represents a source of respite and reflection, healing and growth. COVID-19 has torn apart the lives of individuals globally: the arts will be the glue and the salve that help puts us back together again.  

The arts help support communities and organisations too. It is on this very ethos that Arts & Business NI is founded. Businesses rely on the arts to set the tone of the local community, as an accepting, adventurous and inclusive place to live and work. As a result, places that are alive with culture are proven to attract more foreign direct investment. 

Businesses that welcome the arts into their own organisations are proven to reap even more benefits. Arts & Business NI have facilitated hundreds of creative collaborations between businesses and arts organisations over the yearsfrom high level strategic partnerships and creative training to the placement of professionals on to cultural boards. What do they all have in common? Happier and more motivated staff, who felt rewarded and valued by their employers.  

There are so many examples of how the arts have been crucial in supporting how NI organisations do business. We asked some of our valued business members to tell us how the arts are crucial to them, to their business and to NI.  


Discover why the arts matter to our business members below...

Darragh McCarthy, Founder & CEO, FinTrU

Here at FinTrU, we strongly believe that the arts and culture sector plays an integral role in the wellbeing of society.

FinTrU has many different arts partnerships, which contribute to our employee mental health and wellbeing. These include choirs, theatre bursaries, mindfulness, communication exercises and photography workshops.

Those in the arts need job security and protection at this time of uncertainty. We live in a post-conflict society in Northern Ireland, which needs humour, entertainment and cultural stimulation. This is critical to people’s mental wellbeing and it has never been more vital than at present when many are struggling.

Our society has a proud tradition of the arts and it is our duty to do what we can to protect this heritage. This sector drives our economy and brings communities together in a unique way that we must safeguard for the current and future generations

Leigh Meyer, Managing Director, Citi Belfast Site Head

A vibrant arts sector is critical to our region as it defines Northern Ireland positively by helping to attract and retain talent, attracting inward investment and having an economic impact in terms of creating employment, night-time economy and cultural tourism. Through our partnerships with a number of arts organisations in Northern Ireland we have been able to engage employees and promote positive mental health in the work environment. These partnerships have enabled our employees to access their creativity in the workplace and provided them with the opportunity to enhance their professional development through learning key creative and life skills

Johnny Hanna, Partner in Charge KPMG in Northern Ireland

At KPMG, we recognise that business has an important role to play in providing support to the arts sectors and to making a difference in the communities in which we operate. That is reflected in our partnership with the Royal Ulster Academy, now in its 13th year. During that time we have had the privilege of developing various community projects alongside the academy. This partnership brings an extra dimension to our business by lending a creative influence which helps enrich our day to day work and enthuses our teams. We were delighted last year to extend our successful connection with the RUA and hope that our positive experience encourages others to look at how they might help support other organisations in the sector

Lee Cutler, Centre Manager, Forestside Shopping Centre

Over the past 8 years our Arts Partners have helped us reach market sectors outside our natural customer base (i.e. under 25’s). The creativity, energy and opportunities our Arts Partners bring to any project has been invaluable and we believe ‘that’s what makes us special’ as a retail centre.

Currently retail is one of the most adversely affected sectors and budgets reflect that at this time. Therefore, we would encourage any central help to support our Arts Partners to ensure that they are in position when we come through the other side of this pandemic and we can once again fully support (financially) our valued Partners in the Arts sector.

Michael Neill, Head of A&L Goodbody Belfast

At A&L Goodbody, we've seen first-hand how embracing and collaborating with the Arts and Culture Sector has benefitted our workplace. The positivity generated within our firm, both in terms of our staff and our clients, didn’t just begin when the firm was awarded Arts and Business NI Business of the year - we had witnessed that positivity over the course of many months beforehand.

We understand that that the Arts and Cultural sector is in a precarious position due to the devastating impact of Covid 19 but one shouldn't underestimate the critical role it can play in the economic and social recovery of our region. Not only does it directly support many who work within that sector but it builds many bridges in terms of bringing communities together, a bridge to attracting tourism, and a positive bridge into business and its workforce.

Jackie McCoy, Associate Dean Global Engagement, Ulster University Business School

Economic Development Agencies, charged with supporting indigenous companies and attracting Foreign Direct Investment, are beginning to better understand how the artistic and cultural experiences on offer in a city influences individual and organisational decisions to put down roots or invest. Alongside other arts organisations, Belfast International Arts Festival is playing an important and proactive role in that decision-making process and forms an integral part of the Northern Ireland inward investment package.

Chris Conway, Group Chief Executive, Translink

As a large responsible business we have enjoyed many benefits as a result of the outstanding creativity and talent of our vibrant arts and culture scene.

Partnerships with the local arts sector give businesses a platform to stand-out, transform and animate their customer and staff experience into something more effective, meaningful and inspirational.

Such partnerships help businesses explore their creative potential, boost brand credibility and connect with their target audience.

With the support of a wide range of arts organisations over the years, we have been able to deliver bespoke & memorable partnerships that have successfully captured the hearts and minds of our passengers and ultimately helped grow our business.

Gavin Killeen, Managing Director, Nuprint Technologies

A vibrant arts scene is a reflection of who we are as a people and how we relate to the world. The North West is rightly proud of the creativity, flair and resourcefulness of its people and boasts world renowned musicians, singers, actors and artists among its sons and daughters. We can all recognise the value of the arts to society, education, health and wellbeing but we also need to look at this sector as an area for increasing productivity and growth. In an age where image is everything a thriving cultural sector sends a positive message attracting inward investment, stimulating growth and encouraging the best and brightest talent to settle here. The economic impact of cultural tourism and the night-time economy has been highlighted by its loss due to the Coronavirus pandemic. More than ever we now need to nurture and value this sector if we are to prosper as a society and revitalise our fragile economy.

As a small business Nuprint has supported groups like ‘Stage Beyond’ and we have an ongoing relationship with our local Playhouse Theatre and Arts Centre. We also try to publicise and encourage staff and their families to attend and become involved in events both locally and throughout Northern Ireland

The Wider Context 

On 5th July 2020, the UK government announced a £1.57 billion support package to help arts, culture and heritage industries across Britain weather the obstacles presented by COVID-19.  

This announcement was welcomed with relief by the arts and culture sector, who had been working in a state of emergency and uncertainty since March.  

On a local level, Northern Ireland was allocated £33 million from the £1.57 billion UK-wide investment package to support arts, culture and heritage. Following the announcement of this fund, Communities Minister Carál  Chuilín commented: 

"Whilst ultimately it will be for the Executive to decide on how this money should be spent, the argument for a comprehensive package of support to local musicians, freelancers, theatres, artists, museums and the heritage sector at a time when they are struggling to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic cannot be overstated. 

At time of writing2 months have passed since this announcement. The state of emergency still exists in the arts sector in NI and continues to worsen, with many individual practitioners and venues having no sources of income and no indicative dates for when their livelihoods will reopen; and many practitioners have suffered greatly as a result. 

Iis expected that when the NI Executive meets on Thursday 17th September, they will consider how the £33 million will be spent in Northern Ireland.  

The Problem 

The arts and cultural sector are concerned that the aforementioned £33 million may not ultimately be allocated to the arts sectoin NI  

Whilst many sectors have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, should the local arts sector NOT receive the funding as originally promised, the effects will be devastating.  

Without substantial financial support, Northern Ireland’s vibrant cultural sector will crumble and cease to exist. The facts speak for themselves: 

  • Many skilled creatives who usually work freelance currently have no income. As such they are having to seek other work, to meet their living costs. 

  • Venues cannot sell tickets, and are finding it increasingly difficult to pay full time staff and rent. This is leading to more and more staff being furloughed, although that scheme is also soon at risk of ending. 

  • Those seeking to enter the industry cannot do so, and are being forced to look at other employment pathways, putting their talents to the side. 

What next? 

The arts sector, and those who want to protect it must speak out and fight for the £33million we were allocated by the UK Chancellor.  

It is expected that the decision will be made on Thursday 17th September.  

We must do everything in our power before then to articulate why the arts are important in Northern Ireland, to influence those decision makers responsible for allocating the £33 million.  

With that in mind, we are encouraging everyone to write to their MLA’s, using the template letter which can be found here 

No amount of noise is too much, so make your voice heard via social media, email and any other platform at your disposal.  

Let's work together to ensure we retain the vibrant cultural sector Northern Ireland proudly calls its own.  

Our Funders & Partners

Arts & Business NI is generously supported by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland.